Word of the Day / Dvash

The ultimate symbol of a sweet new year and a defining characteristic of this ancient land (sharing the distinction with milk, of course), the word for honey has a long and rich history in Biblical texts.

Honey, one of the most ancient foods known to humankind, has over the millennia morphed into a symbol of all things sweet. No Rosh Hashanah table should be without this delicacy to help celebrants wish each other a sweet new year. But the Hebrew word for honey, dvash, means more than just the ambrosial product we borrow from bees. In antiquity it meant the sweet juice of almost any fruit. That explains how honey was included in the "seven species” of the Land of Israel: "wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey" (Deut. 8:8). Since honey is obviously not a plant like the other six, scholars believe the reference was to the sweet viscous fluid of dates.

A related word to dvash, the Arabic dibes, means grape juice, and sometimes pomegranate juice. Nogah HaReuveni, the founder of Naot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve, taught that the description of the land of Israel as "flowing with milk and honey" – mentioned 21 times in the Bible – did refer to bees' honey, and was a way to poetically depict uncultivated land, where milk-giving goats and sheep were herded and wildflowers blossomed freely.         

Shoshana Kordova will resume enlightening and entertaining Word of the Day readers on October 9.